Mexican riding bicycles in Mexico City. Photograph: David R Frazier Photolibrary, I/Alamy
After an outburst from a journalist, a demonstration took place to raise awareness of the difficulties cyclists face
Last month a journalist in Mexico City called on motorists to squash cyclists and rid the city of a plague.
The outburst from Angel Verdugo, who has since lost his job, prompted a group of around 220 cyclists to gather at the foot of El Angel de la Independencia, one of Mexico City’s famous landmarks and a meeting point for demonstrations.
Cyclists regarded his comments as tasteless given the current climate of violence in Mexico. «He wanted two groups of citizens to fight each other,» said Jesus Martin Gomez, president of the Commission of Urban Cycling in Mexico City. «Mexico does not need more bloodshed,» he stated. «This gathering is to show the press we are against incitements to violence.»
The demonstration, organised through Facebook and attended by members of various cycling groups, also aimed to raise awareness of the difficulties cyclists in Mexico City face. One of their main objectives is to be safer when out cycling.
The city has become more cycle-friendly in the last few years with the introduction of abike hire scheme and more cycle lanes, but cyclists say that it is not enough. One thing they are pushing for is better infrastructure for both bikers and pedestrians, meaning more cycle paths and better signposting. Jordi Melendez, one of the event organisers, explained that cyclists are marginalised when it comes to road use. «Our aim is clear,» he stated. «The street is a public area and there is plenty of space for everyone.»
Neil Steinman, a German living in Mexico City, has been sharing road space with Mexican drivers for the past six years. He says he finds them more aggressive than German motorists. «In Germany motorists are more used to cyclists,» he said. «They respect them a bit more.» He said cycling around the city was almost impossible when he first arrived. «There has been big advance in the last years.»
Aggression from drivers is not the only problem. Gomez complains that many motorists do not know the rules of the road because they are not made to sit a driving exam before getting their licence. Gomez is in the process of forming a new cycling commission, which aims to push politicians for changes in legislation. What cyclists in this city want, according to Gomez, «Is that clear laws are established with regards to cycling.»
The organisation is also asking for changes in how the city’s transportation budget is spent, asking that 5% of government transport funding be set aside for cycling. Part of this budget would be put towards campaigns educating people on road awareness. Something which Mexico is sorely in need of, according to Gomez. «When pedestrians go to cross the road here, drivers speed up,» he stated. «We do not have a culture of road awareness.»
It is not only current cyclists who would benefit from the improvements. Isabel León, professional cyclist and Mexico world champion, believes better legislation would create more cyclists. Mexico is currently suffering an obesity problem. «Mexico needs its people to be more active,» she stated. Cycling, she explains, brings many benefits, «Not only in terms of physical health, but also it makes people healthier mentally.»
At the protest, with much ringing of bells and whistling, the group of cyclists got ready to ride in protest to the radio station of the disgraced journalist to hand in a letter of protest. Melendez is pleased with the turnout. «The violence that Mexico is suffering now can be combated using many different strategies,» he explained. «One of these is the reclaiming of public spaces.» In the long term he has hope for the future of cycling in the city. «We are many and we feel that we can create change in a creative way.»
• Ela Stapley is a freelance journalist based in Mexico
via Mexico City cyclists rally to reclaim the streets | Ela Stapley | Environment | guardian.co.uk.